Do you want to know what you’re missing with Android, but just the thought of leaving Windows Phone 8 gives you separation anxiety? Does your desire for a simplified approach outweigh the functionality of Apple’s iOS? Have no fear, for your curiosity hath been addressed, Dear Reader! I have found the closest match to what the offspring of Android, iOS, and WP8 would look like. There’s just one catch: it’s called the Infobar A02.
The Infobar line brings sophistication to Japan’s second most popular mobile carrier, KDDI. But whether or not the A02 fills any void in the Japanese market is a question I found myself asking when I first saw the design Naoto Fukasawa came up with. The A02’s aluminum chassis is one of HTC’s most unique hardware creations yet. This hardware married with the unique iida UI 2.0 running atop Android 4.1 presents an alternative to buyers who are tired of Android, iOS, and WP8. Though HTC is allegedly trying its hardest to move away from carrier-specific devices stateside, the Infobar A02’s off-the-wall design is a one-off, so don’t bet on it making an appearance here in the states. Where the A01 utilizes physical back, home and menu buttons, the A02 swaps for on-screen keys similar to what we have seen on the HTC M7 leaked images. Along with dust and waterproofing, the Infobar A02 houses a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 at 1.5GHz, a 4.7-inch 720p screen, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of flash storage, an 8MP rear-facing camera and 2.1MP camera around front, LTE connectivity, and Beats Audio which pays tribute to its HTC roots. The Infobar A02 is expected to launch sometime next month in Nishikigoi (red), Ice Gray (white), and Aoao (blue).
Before you go searching for a video of the device in action, imagine this: you're scrolling through Live Tiles present on the home screen of your WP8 device with animations similar to the water-ripple effect built into Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. Each “tile” can be expanded with a pinch gesture and they’re all multi-dimensional so they can be moved and resized with a simple long-press and tap. Perform a long press and the icon begins to shake (reminiscent of the iOS “shimmy”) when you want to move icons around. If the app is also a widget, you can scroll through it via tiny arrows on each edge after a simple long-press.
A quick pull from the left of the display reveals “List View” which organizes everything on the left-most screen into a vertical list like the app list in Windows Phone 8 devices but without the icons. Tap each item and it expands into sub-menus within the app. This is particularly useful for sorting through individual artists since each artist, album and song is accessible without opening the app itself. Once you reach the end of an app’s “path,” the app opens like any other. There is a physical button on the side of the Infobar A02 that is a shortcut to this list view for those in a rush.
A pull from right to left reveals a quick-settings menu with an assortment of toggles similar to the widgets in HTC’s Sense version 2.0, yet somehow, not as ugly. These are customizable like many other attributes of iida UI 2.0. Have a look at the official video here. (To my Japanese readers: feel free to translate in the comments below.
From the outside looking in, and as a consumer who will likely never see the Infobar A02 stateside, I can truly say that this is the sort of device that combines elements Samsung comfortably tackles on the regular. It adds color, flair, and revives a simply stale Apollo OS and brands it as more of an “experience” like Android Jelly Bean and Apple’s iOS have so easily done. As long as you can bear cartoony animations everywhere in the UI, you’ll be refreshed by the elements iida UI 2.0 mashes together. It’s a device for a niche market.
Though my approach to mobile operating systems has favored power over fluidity and function in the past, the Infobar A02 intrigues me for the value it presents. I’d liken the Infobar A02 to the Barbie Jeep of smartphones. Barbie may drive it, but that doesn’t mean it is any less capable in the wild. Design and functionality are the main selling points of the A02. Even if it's flamboyant and playful, the Infobar A02’s UI will bring value to those looking for a device that isn’t as limited as iOS and WP8, yet just as powerful as Android Jelly Bean.
How do you feel about the mashup of elements within iida UI 2.0? Does it present any values you’d like to see stateside? I would no doubt flash this custom ROM should it be ported to my phone. Would you? Is it a UI that looks fresh enough to ship on a factory device, or do you think HTC should stick to Sense and Apollo for now? I can tell you one thing, if HTC is capable of bringing this hardware stateside, it’s not going to be a quiet introduction for the Taiwanese company. The A02 is quite possibly the freshest and most unique approach I have ever seen in an end product for mainstream use. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments.